Sponsored by Beloit Auction
By Meghan M.M. Trimm
What is it about coins that has caught the imaginations of collectors for millennia? Coins offer insight into the social values of cultures, display art styles, and offer nifty historical tidbits, but they also have practical monetary significance. That said, it’s easy to picture coin collectors as miserly old bankers counting and hoarding coins, like Mr. Spacely from the Jetsons. Far from the truth, coin collecting is a vibrant past time inclusive of all genders, cultures, and tastes. Plus, those old white guys may prove to be valuable mentors as you get started. In short, coin collecting is for everyone. Once called the king of hobbies and the hobby of kings, here’s why coin collecting is cooler than you think.
1. Economically Smart
Taking care of the bottom line is always a smart decision. Coins are sought after as some are made of precious metals, but the right coins have can hold their value even as prices of metals fall. Rare, uncirculated, and commemorative coins are collectible – that means they are worth whatever a person is willing to pay. Therefore, collectible coins are often worth more than their currency value.
A well cared for collection can be a good investment. It’s important to learn to care for your coins — once a coin becomes tarnished or damaged it loses value.
2. Choose Your Style
Your coin collection will be unique to your interests. You can keep souvenir coins from arcades or trips abroad. You can even keep those lucky pennies you find on the street. As you think about your collection consider what country, time-period, historical event, mint, metal type, and printed value interests you most. Do you want grungy coins with stories or lustrous uncirculated coins? Do you want perfect coins or do you want to collect coins with mint errors and mistakes? Hint: there is a strong market for errors and mistake coins that escaped the mint, because so few exist.
3. Artistic & Historical Quality
A coin may speak to a collector due to its artistic or historical significance. Each coin is designed in the style of its time. For example, Morgan Dollars are highly regarded as the most popular coin in US history and one of the most beautiful due to the eagle art and the depiction of lady liberty. They were minted from 1878 – 1921.
However, the half dollar maybe the most interesting if you are into Lady Liberty art. With six iterations between 1794 and 1947, Liberty changes from pure proud flowing hair to an Art Nouveau goddess. This coin, if lined up in chronological order with the head-side up, shows an astonishing and beautiful evolution of the art surrounding Lady Liberty.
4. Coins Tell Stories
Did you ever wonder what the first penny looked like? Well, it did not get Abe Lincoln on it until 1909. Back in Abe’s day the penny depicted the Indian Head. Not surprising as after the Civil War, America’s next greatest political struggle was with westward expansion and the pushing out of American Indians. One of Lincoln’s legacies was his relationship with Blackhawk, a history which has shaped the Beloit region, undoubtedly. While 150 years of political hindsight does not honor the United States treatment of Native Americans, our old coins echo the values of the American populous in their time. History having given Lincoln credit for the victory, it’s no wonder his likeness replaced the Indian head eventually.
Abe Lincoln also would have handled the first pennies which depicted a flying eagle. These rare coins were only minted for three years (1856 – 1859) before the popular Indian Heads came out. Both of these old pennies are collectible today.
Another interesting story. Most people don’t know that the United States had “Half Dimes” as well as two and three cent pieces before the five-cent nickel was finally invented in 1865. The nickel was popular at the time and replaced the three-cent note of the Civil War era. Because who wants to count by three’s? Apparently, it took America a while to get our currency values just right. We’re a young nation after all. All those coin experiments add up to great collectibles.
5. Small & Easy to Store
One of the reasons it can be hard to commit to a collection is space. If you’re the type of person who cannot imagine devoting a room or even a closet to your collection, fear not. Coins are small and easy to store. Many collections are kept in binders, just like your YuGioh cards. Another way to store coins is in your dresser drawer or jewelry box. Just be sure to store coins in their original cases, keep documentation, and handle them using a soft towel while gripping the coins on their edges.
Some coins are more sought after that others. The rarer a coin, the more likely you’ll only acquire it through an auction. If you’re looking to create a competitive collection, read up on coins that interest other collectors. The Coin Collector’s Survival Manual and The Official Red Book are highly recommended for this kind of research.
Highly collectible coins can be fun to track down and hard to acquire, like treasure. Who doesn’t love treasure.
Here’s an abbreviated list of conditions that lead to the collectability of a coin:
Obviously the smaller the number of items in existence, the more the remaining like-items are worth. Rare equals collectible. Collectible equals valuable, for the most part.
- Program Coins
- Annual Coin and Proof Sets
- Uncirculated Sets
- Commemorative Coins
- Die errors
- Planchet errors
- Striking errors
- Off-center strikes
- Multiple-struck coins
If you’re wondering what those words mean, check out the US Mint’s coin glossary. Each of these conditions happened when the coin was produced. But there are other ways that coins become collectible. Age and luster must be considered. An old coin maybe rare simply because it’s counterparts have been lost to time and the elements.
Old coins – and any coin – is worth more if it maintains it’s luster. In fact, old coins gain a natural coloration that is highly valuable, so avoid polishing and over handling coins. They need to show a natural luster appropriate for their age.
This is why uncirculated coins are valuable – they have never been handled and are likely untarnished.
How to Become a Collector
Once you’ve decided what types of coins you’re into, begin searching for them. Auctions, flea markets, estate sales, and sometimes the ground are good places to begin your search. Meet other collectors in the process. Chances are your peers will be the most important assets in your collective search for collectible coins.